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Plimoth Patuxet Museums Share Pilgrims’ Religious Diversity

Whether they were praying over a dinner of wild turkey or worshiping in close quarters aboard Mayflower, the Pilgrims were not of one mind when it came to spiritual matters.


A Lively Blend of History

The story of Plymouth Colony’s varied religious traditions is told with vigor by Plimoth Patuxet Museums’ four living history sites — the Mayflower II, Historic Patuxet Homesite, 17th-Century English Village and Plimoth Grist Mill as well as gallery exhibits, and the introductory film Along the Shores of Change.   

A lively blend of re-created environments, museum theater programs, demonstrations, and hands-on activities bring to life the 17th-century world of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, the Native people of south coast Massachusetts. These thought- and soul-stirring experiences work in partnership to create awareness of the Pilgrims’ diverse religious beliefs and share insights on Native spirituality too.

“We help guests understand that Plymouth Colony was a place motivated by religious devotion and the search for a better life, where the colonists could worship safely and not live in poverty as immigrants in Holland,” said Richard Pickering, Deputy Executive Director. “By representing the
Pilgrims’  faith experience and Native spirituality respectfully and accurately, we reveal the deep dimensions at the heart of America’s founding story.”

Although self-guided tours are offered, a tour led by a Museum Guide will likely be more meaningful, especially for church groups, as the guide can focus on a group’s particular interest.

As guests explore the 17th-Century English Village, they talk to Museum Guides in modern dress or costumed historical performers who pause from chores to answer questions. Or invite them to help with chores! Each performer portrays an actual Plymouth colonist. They never step out of character as they discuss their 17th-century life, including personal religious beliefs. Through these conversations, guests grasp not only “the broad swath (of beliefs) that is represented,” Pickering said, but that the Biblical interpretation and worship practices of 17th-century English Calvinists don’t always match the beliefs and customs of today. At the Historic Patuxet Homesite guests learn about Wampanoag lifeways and their connection to the natural world.

Experience Pilgrim Life

Aboard Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to New England in 1620, guests can imagine how it felt to be one of the 102 passengers or three-dozen crew members, representing a broad range of English Protestant experiences, who lived and worshiped on a very small ship.

Authentic 17th-century dinners for groups feed the soul as well as the stomach. As guests dine on turkey with onion or sunflower gravies — “The Pilgrims liked their sauces and gravies,” Pickering says — a historian talks about the dishes being served and about Pilgrim customs like saying a prayer before and after the “meat” — the Pilgrim term for a meal. Historians can lead diners in traditional Pilgrim prayers and answer their faith questions.

One insight Pickering hopes guests glean from their time at Plimoth Patuxet Museums is that shared experience can bring those of different beliefs together. “It was the common suffering of the First Winter that bound the Pilgrims together in a way that is almost indescribable, surpassing religious differences,” said Pickering. “It teaches us that getting along takes work. People so different in how they perceived the world stood side by side. It is an extraordinary story; one we all need.”

Plimoth Patuxet is open from early April through the Sunday after Thanksgiving. 

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